The following documents are Canadian census forms dating back to 1981. The 1981 form reflects how data was collected prior to the implementation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.
Since 1981, there have been several changes to the way that the census asked about ethnicity under the “sociocultural information” category.
In 1981, respondents were to select a language from the following: “English, French, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Other.” The focus on these select identities is further seen in another questions regarding country of birth, where the “U.K., France, W. Germany, E. Germany, U.S.A, Poland and Other” are the only options to select if the respondent was not born in Canada. The question on ethnic origin is reproduced below:
The same question for subsequent censuses, up till 2006 are shown below:
Starting in 1996, the ancestry question became a write-in response, with the option of writing in up to four entries.
Also by 1991, the ethnic subcategories available to choose from increased, and most notably included the addition of “Black.” However, the note the that accompanies the questions reads:
While most people of Canada view themselves as Canadian, information about their ancestral origins has been collected since the 1901 Census to reflect the changing composition of the Canadian population and is need to ensure that everyone, regardless of his/her ethnic or cultural background, has equal opportunity to share fully in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada. Therefore, this question refers to the origins of this person’s ancestors.”
This note provides insight into the motivation behind including a question about ethnicity. The Census cites tradition (“since 1901”), equal opportunity, and changing demographics as reasons for asking the “ethnic origin” question.
By 1996, however, the ancestral origins questions becomes a write-in question, and the
ethnicity question simply asks, “Is this person:” By 1996, however, many of the European identities formerly listed have been replaced by more diverse offerings, such as “South Asian, Latin American, Arab,” yet specific country-based identities are also available, such as “Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean.” This pattern remains into the 2006 census.
The census forms show the progress of multiculturalism, which was implemented as a policy in 1988. In the first census after 1988, the 1991 census, there remains a focus on European identities, which is adjusted by the 1996 census.